Top 13 for 2013: Florida’s best moments of the year

For as bad as things went for the Florida Gators at times in 2013 (see the Not Top 13 for 2013), there were more than a fair share of bright spots. From breathtaking moments and game-winning plays to earning championships and setting records, the Gators had plenty to be proud of in 2013. Check out OnlyGators.com‘s Top 13 for 2013.

13 » A NEW TRADITION
Florida’s football program did not get much right in 2013, but instituting a new pre-game tradition – a “celebrity” serving as Mr. Two Bits in honor of the original, George Edmondson – was absolutely a bright spot. The Gators also picked the perfect person to kick off the new tradition with former running back Errict Rhett performing as if he was made for the role. Others had trouble stepping up to the high benchmark set by Rhett, but the honorary Mr. Two Bits was nevertheless a great sight for fans all season long…even if the team was not. OnlyGators.com sat down with Rhett after his appearance for an extensive interview about the experience and his career.

12 » 15-INNING MARATHON
In the fourth-longest game ever played at the Women’s College Series (longest since 1992), Florida softball prevailed 9-8 over Nebraska in a night game that lasted 15 innings and more than five hours, spanning into the early morning of the next day. The Gators lost two separate leads in the contest before rallying to score two runs in the top of the 15th; UF conceded a run in the latter half of the inning but held on for the victory. Unfortunately for Florida, it had to suit up just hours later for an elimination game against Texas at 1 p.m., one it lost 3-0. The Gators were ranked No. 2 entering the 2013 NCAA Tournament but fell short of a title.

11 » ALL HE WANTED WAS A CHANCE


Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy waited patiently as he got overlooked time and time again, most recently by head coach Will Muschamp and his offensive coordinators in favor of younger players with higher ratings coming out of high school. When junior QB Jeff Driskel went down with a fractured fibula against Tennessee, Murphy finally got his shot and made the most of it. Over a three-game stretch including games on Sept. 21, Sept. 28 (at Kentucky) and Oct. 5 (vs. Arkansas), Murphy completed 39-of-54 passes (72.2 percent) for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception. (He also gained 135 yards and picked up two more scores with his legs.) Unfortunately for him, Murphy injured his shoulder on Oct. 12 against LSU and was simply not the same player as he took the field in more pain than he or the coaching staff decided to admit publicly. Murphy missed the final three games of the season due to that injury and ultimately transferred, feeling Muschamp would not give him a fair chance to win the starting job in 2014.

Continue Reading » Top 13 for 2013: Florida’s best moments of the year

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SIX VIDEO BITS: Gators, Bates, Spurrier, Muschamp, Embree, Easley, Williams

1 » Florida Gators football released this 2013 season promo. It’s quite good.

2 » Former Gators linebacker James Bates impersonates and tells stories about former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier. Bates was recently hired as a college football analyst by FOX Sports for the new FOX Sports 1 channel.

Check out four more Gators videos…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX VIDEO BITS: Gators, Bates, Spurrier, Muschamp, Embree, Easley, Williams

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FOUR BITS: Embree, Pounceys, Driskel, Tebow

1 » Former Florida Gators tennis star Lauren Embree was named the 2013 ITA National College Player of the Year on Wednesday, just months after she was named the organization’s National Senior Player of the Year. Embree, who helped lead Florida to two national titles and eight total league crowns, has been training in Boca Raton, FL, and California over the summer as she prepares to begin her career as a professional. Be sure to check out OnlyGators.com’s extensive feature on Embree from May in which she goes in-depth about the tough conclusion to her college career.

2 » According to ESPN’s John Clayton, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins plan to speak to Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, respectively, about their decision to don “Free Hernandez” hats while in a club on Saturday night. Though neither player is expected to be reprimanded by his team in any tangible way, each is considered a locker room leader and centerpiece of his respective team’s future. On Monday, Maurkice Pouncey released the following apology: “I fully recognize the seriousness of the situation involving my former teammate, and I regret that my actions appear to make light of that serious situation. I apologize to anyone who was offended by my actions.”

3 » Participating in a “Air-It-Out” competition while serving as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy over the weekend in Thibodaux, LA, Florida junior quarterback Jeff Driskel put together a strong performance and finished second amongst the top-tier signal callers in attendance (Miami’s Stephen Morris placed first). While Driskel seemed to do everything right while in attendance, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel was a whole other story. According to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, Manziel was out at a bar early Friday morning and showed up late for one of his coaching sessions hours later. The next day, he completely missed a Saturday morning coaching session, did not alert anyone he would not be there and then left that afternoon. Manziel told staff later in the day he was not feeling well – his father later claimed he was dehydrated, which, presumably, is simply a nicer word to use than “hung-over” – and the staff responded by suggesting he go home. Adding to speculation that Manziel was indeed hung-over and not simply “dehydrated” are reports that he was spotted still having a good time as late as 1:27 a.m. Saturday morning.

4 » Eight-time MLB All-Star right fielder Darryl Strawberry, who has dealt with his share of drug and health problems over the past 30 years, has turned his life around and now spends his days working as an ordained minister. Using religion partially as his reasoning, Strawberry told USA Today last week that he simply wishes he could have been more like New England Patriots quarterback Tim Tebow as a young man. “I wish I could have been like a Gary Carter or a Tim Tebow when I was playing,” he said. “I look at Tebow. He gets bashed because of his faith. Let ‘em laugh. Let ‘em talk. He’s a greater man than anyone who might be greater than him as an athlete. He’s a real man. … I admire him more than he could ever imagine.”

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Lauren Embree prepared to move on after bitter conclusion to her outstanding Florida career

It took her a few days, but Lauren Embree found her smile again.

The jovial, outgoing and exceedingly accomplished star of the Florida Gators women’s tennis team faced the toughest stretch of her playing career one week ago while being uncharacteristically upset in a pair of singles matches within a three-day span. Her college career, which she thought could end with a third team national title and perhaps even a singles championship, came to screeching halt sooner than she, her family, teammates or coaches could ever have expected.

Entering a 2013 NCAA Tournament semifinal round showdown with Stanford on May 20, Embree had not lost as a singles competitor in dual match play. The No. 1 player in the country was 20-0 on the season, 11-0 against top 25-ranked opponents.

But none of that mattered when she lined up across from No. 13 Nicole Gibbs, who had Embree’s number from the get-go. Gibbs thwarted her 6-0, 6-1, not only earning a huge upset victory over arguably the best player in the country but also putting Florida’s season on the brink in the process.

The rest of the Gators fought hard but ultimately lost, dropping the match 4-3 to the Cardinal and getting knocked out before the finals for the first time since 2009.

Embree was understandably devastated yet had no choice but to regroup quickly as she was also competing in NCAA singles action two days later. She never could have guessed what would happen next.

Matched up against No. 21 Jacqueline Cako from Arizona State, Embree put up a better fight than she did two days earlier but was still defeated 6-3, 6-2 despite having numerous opportunities to make a run in the second set.

After a career that earned her the well-deserved nickname “Ms. Clutch,” her most recent outings left her feeling like she was anything but.

“Obviously those were not good performances,” Embree said in a conversation with OGGOA on Tuesday. “It was heartbreaking, and it’s definitely a feeling that I had my freshman year in the finals [loss]. You don’t want to ever feel like that, but it’s a part of sports and it happens.

“Starting with the [loss in dual match play] and then having to play individuals, kind of regroup and try to get my mind clear, it was obviously not the way I wanted to go out and end my college career.”

Continue Reading » Lauren Embree prepared to move on after bitter conclusion to her outstanding Florida career

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FOUR BITS: women’s tennis, Tebow, Purifoy

1 » After falling short of a third-straight team national title, Florida Gators women’s tennis felt confident that its three singles competitors would make some noise in the 2013 NCAA Singles Championship, which began on Wednesday. Instead, all three Florida women lost their first-round matches and were eliminated from the competition. No. 1 senior Lauren Embree continued her tough week by being upset 3-6, 2-6. Just two days earlier, Embree suffered the first NCAA dual match singles loss of her career when she was similarly beaten in straight sets. For one of the greatest tennis players in school history, both results are shocking. No. 17 junior Sofie Oyen (3-6, 4-6) and No. 51 junior Alex Cercone (3-6, 7-6, 4-6) also dropped their matches; all three lost to lower-ranked competitors. The No. 11 duo of Embree/Oyen will participate in the 2013 NCAA Doubles Championship beginning on Thursday.

2 » The “Chuck Norris wears Tim Tebow pajamas” joke that was so often mentioned during former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow’s college days got the actor’s attention at the time. The two wound up meeting and becoming friendly. Now Norris (via the conservative-slanted website NewsBusters) is campaigning on Tebow’s behalf, questioning why he is not currently employed by an NFL team despite proving to be a clutch player. In this 1,075-word rant, Norris calls Tebow “a winner – plain and simple” while arguing that the two are very similar as people and that is why the Jacksonville Jaguars should be signing the controversial player.

I’ve heard the critics say Tebow has poor technical skills, but the truth is that Tim is a natural leader, an amazingly gifted football player, an inspiration to his team and the possessor of intense determination and strategy to bring any team to victory — no matter what the odds. One can improve technique, but leadership is innate. That is why I believe that Tebow could be a superstar and legend in the NFL.

Tebow is a player who rises to the occasion and delivers big in critical moments. He reminds me of myself when I used to compete in martial arts. I would spar with my black belts in class, and sometimes they would outscore me. Yet in the tournaments, I would defeat them. My students used to ask me, “Why is it that we can contend equally against you in class but can’t beat you in the tournaments?” My answer was always the same: “When it counts, I rise to the occasion.”

3 » Florida junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy is receiving a ton of praise heading into the 2013 season, especially from ESPN’s draft analysts. Mel Kiper, Jr. has Purifoy ranked as his No. 10 overall prospect, and Todd McShay believes he is approaching “top-tier” cornerback status. “FLA CB Purifoy (#15) needs strength and to improve [his] ‘off’ cover skills, but [he] has feet, balance, hips, instincts to become [a] top-tier NFL corner,” he tweeted on Wednesday. McShay has Purifoy ranked as his No. 19 overall prospect and also sees him making an impact as a punt return specialist in the NFL.

4 » If you have find yourself wondering what Florida’s sports nutrition program is like, check out this feature by Scott Carter, the senior writer on Florida’s official website, which profiles the program and Sarah Snyder, the Gators’ director of nutrition. “What can give you that upper edge if everyone is doing the same amount of practice time, the same amount of intensity?” Snyder asked rhetorically. “Hydration and nutrition come into play, and recovery comes into play.”

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Lauren Embree named National Player of the Year

Florida Gators senior tennis player Lauren Embree was named the 2013 ITA National Senior Player of the Year on Tuesday.

Just the third player in school history to receive the honor (Nicole Arendt in 1991, Jessica Lehnhoff in 2002), Embree is the reigning 2012 ITA/Rivera Women’s All-American Singles Champion. She is currently ranked No. 1 by the ITA and was announced on Tuesday as the No. 1 overall seed in the 2013 NCAA Singles Tournament, which opens play on Wednesday.

Embree is also a three-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year (2010-12).

She has led Florida to four-straight Southeastern Conference regular-season titles (2009-12), four consecutive SEC Tournament crowns (2009-12) and back-to-back NCAA National Championships (2011-12) with her singles victories clinching both national titles for the Gators.

In NCAA dual match play, Embree is Florida’s career leader in singles wins (15-1), doubles wins (19-3), combined wins (34-4) and combined winning percentage (.895). She usually played her best when it meant the most for the Gators.

Photo Credit: Ron Irby/Tampa Bay Times

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Three-peat thwarted: Stanford upsets Florida women’s tennis 4-3 in NCAA Tournament semifinal

No. 1 Florida Gators women’s tennis entered the 2013 NCAA Tournament hoping to achieve the second national championship three-peat in school history. Instead, Florida was dealt a stinging 4-3 defeat by the No. 12 Stanford Cardinal in the semifinals of the event, sending the Gators home from Champaign, IL a day early.

Stanford, the last team to beat Florida in NCAA play when it topped UF for the 2010 national title, snapped the Gators’ 16-match NCAA Tournament winning streak on Monday by outworking the favorites in doubles play and singles action. UF was participating in its fourth-straight NCAA Tournament semifinal and looking to advance to the event’s finals for the fourth consecutive season.

Florida’s year-long struggles in doubles were a factor as the teams of No. 11 senior Lauren Embree/junior Sofie Oyen and junior Alex Cercone/senior Caroline Hitimana both dropped their matches 8-3. It was the 10th time this season that the Gators lost the doubles point and faced an early 1-0 deficit.

The Cardinal, which fell to UF 4-2 in Gainesville, FL on Feb. 24, also won the doubles point that day, but the home team came back and won four singles matches.

Florida (26-3) and Stanford (21-4) split the first sets, but the Cardinal quickly increased their lead substantially by pulling off two relatively easy singles victories.

Continue Reading » Three-peat thwarted: Stanford upsets Florida women’s tennis 4-3 in NCAA Tournament semifinal

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Florida women’s tennis tops Cal 4-2, advances to fourth-straight NCAA Tournament semifinal

No. 1 Florida Gators women’s tennis (26-2) advanced to the semifinals of the 2013 NCAA Tournament for the fourth-straight season with a 4-2 victory over the No. 8 California Golden Bears (19-6) on Sunday in Champaign, IL.

Florida improved to 23-5 all-time in quarterfinal matches and is moving on to the semifinals for the seventh time in the last nine seasons as well as the 23rd time in school history. UF swept the first three opponents it has faced in the NCAA Tournament and now holds a combined 16-2 match record in this year’s event.

The Gators started things off with the No. 11 duo of senior Lauren Embree and junior Sofie Oyen winning four-straight games to clinch the doubles point with an 8-4 victory over the No. 33 team of Lynn Chi and Anett Schutting. Freshmen Danielle Collins and Brianna Morgan, Florida’s third doubles team, had previously won their match 8-4 to put Embree/Oyen in position to clinch the point.

When the six singles matches got underway, the Gators were able to pull off four first-set victories. However, the Golden Bears knotted things up at 1-1 as No. 5 Zsofi Susanyi routed No. 51 junior Alex Cercone in straight sets (6-1, 6-1).

Cal was not able to hold even with Florida as No. 1 Embree quickly got the lead back for UF by taking down No. 8 Schutting with ease 6-2, 6-0. Junior No. 123 Olivia Janowicz added to the lead by beating Tayler Davis just minutes later 6-1, 6-4.

The Golden Bears drew closer when No. 43 Klara Fabikova upset No. 17 Oyen (7-5, 6-4), reducing the Gators’ advantage to 3-2 with three matches in progress. It only took senior No. 116 Caroline Hitimana a few moments to shut the door on the quarterfinals, however, as she closed out a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Annie Goransson to clinch the match.

Florida will remain in Champaign for the rest of the tournament as it looks to defend its back-to-back NCAA titles. The Gators have now won 16-straight NCAA Tournament matches dating back to 2011 and are currently on a 19-match winning streak dating back to March 3. Florida will next take on No. 12 Stanford on Monday at 6 p.m.

The Gators beat the Cardinal previously this season, 4-2 on Feb. 24. in Gainesville, FL, but UF suffered its last NCAA Tournament loss at the hands of SU, which won 4-3 in the 2010 national championship game.

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